Indoor Cycling Training vs. Riding outside
Studies show that cyclist with same (RPE) rating of perceived exertion ride at high watt value outside the road than they do indoors, Even athletes who live in year round warm climates need to use the indoor trainer at times, due to raining seasons or extremely hot temperatures. Whether you live in the north or south, it is a common trend amongst all athletes to experience higher perceived exertions while working on the indoor trainer. It is hard work. But you expend far more energy, using greater muscle force and fiber recruitment, riding outside. That gives outdoor riding a harder workout score compared to a workout on an indoor trainer. There are several reasons why riding on a trainer is significantly different than riding outside. There are also good reasons why riding the indoor trainer may feel allot harder than riding in the great outdoors.
Riding on an indoor trainer is a great way to stay fit during times when you can not ride a bike outside. For some athletes who live in large mountain ranges, it is the only way to keep your cycling fitness through winter. But keeping your fitness on an indoor trainer is not going to allow you to maintain every aspect of your outdoor cycling fitness, specifically your top end power.
Indoor training should have a greater focus on building endurance compared to working higher end systems. You produce less force while performing a workout on an indoor trainer compared to working outside on the road or a trail. You produce the most force, on a bike, while riding the road. The more force you produce, the more muscle fibers you will recruit. But on the indoor trainer, you can not generate the same amount of force as you can outside.
You do not have gravity working against you while riding indoors and you have more give between the wheel of the trainer and your tire compared to little or no give between your tire and a road. It is the combination of force and leg speed that allows you to work higher end power, higher end energy systems and anaerobic properties within the muscle. The lack of force while working on the indoor trainer will not allow you to work as many higher end anaerobic properties compared to a ride outdoors.
Riding inside can have its own set of challenges. You work fewer muscle groups while cycling indoors since you are in a fixed position compared to riding outside. On the positive side, you will target a few prime movers for cycling and work them aerobically to gain great aerobic adaptations. But having fewer muscles involved may make working at the same heart rate and power intensities a little harder, especially at first. You also never coast while riding inside. You are always performing steady work, which creates a challenge to your aerobic systems. A 90 minute ride outside can be compared to a 60-70 minute ride indoors. Since you are in a fixed position on a trainer, working a set group of muscles, riding for longer than 90 minutes at a time may not be necessary and may be more harm than good. You can easily overwork a group of muscles creating imbalances in the muscle structure. Imbalances in the muscle can lead to injury.
The best tips for indoor training and outdoor training
For athletes that need to perform allot of work on an indoor trainer, mixing it up with cross training activities is important. For those who use the trainer occasionally, there is not much to worry about. Working good force through strength exercises, running, hiking, and even skiing can help provide you with the necessary amount of force work while traveling through the winter months. Working organized and smart intensities while cross training is also important. Cross training is not as sport specific as cycling outdoors but it is the best option for an athlete who lives in the high Mountains and experiences allot of snow. Cross training in general, with strength work, running and other activities, is important for all athletes. But that is a topic that will need to wait for another time.